Cloud-native Carbyne recently was granted a patent for technology that lets 911 centers receive streaming video from emergency callers without significant hardware upgrades, but the solution is just part of a platform that can serve as a key transition step to next-generation 911 (NG911), according to a company official.
Rob Clark, Carbyne’s general manager for North America, said the company’s platform—introduced in the U.S. as a cloud-based 911 call-handling system—has attracted considerable attention in recent months as public-safety answering points (PSAPs) have scrambled to overcome challenges inherent to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carbyne supports remote 911 call-taking, so telecommunicators can process emergency calls outside of the physical emergency center—perhaps from their homes—to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.
“In the last six months, we’ve been extremely busy,” Clark said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’ve heightened our focus on really listening to what the customers are saying and what the market needs. We’ve been very, very fortunate to have the agility, with a platform that’s all cloud-native, and being able to do very fast development and fast adjustments to fit the needs of today—not just tomorrow, not just six years from now, but really now.
“Throughout the COVID crisis, we saw a lot of needs and—just like anybody, as a company—we were trying to learn more about it, what the challenges to the community were … We learned so much, and it all came down to: they need more data, and they need it in an actionable format and they need it as part of an ongoing operation.”
One key source of data desired in many emergency centers is real-time video from an incident scene, which can be especially helpful if first responders can view it while traveling to the location. While technically possible today, solutions typically have required a 911 caller to download an application or the 911 center to complete an expensive hardware upgrade—sometimes both—to enable the functionality.
But Carbyne was awarded a U.S. patent last month for its proprietary solution, which lets an emergency center stream live video from a caller’s mobile device, without requiring the caller to install an application. Instead, a Carbyne-powered call center is able to send a video-activation link to the caller, who simply can click the link to provide access to the mobile-device camera and establish a live video connection with the call center.
“It comes in in a secure fashion, so that you have an incident ID associated with it, and that incident ID is associated with the individual’s call—not their location, not their cell-phone number, it’s tied to the actual 911 call,” Clark said. “The actual method patent is about how you reach the caller with a request to share information.
“They have to accept the link on their cell. Once they’ve done that, no application has been dropped [downloaded], and they’ve initiated a session. So, that session is live between the PSAP call-taker and that individual that’s calling in. And it’s all recorded, so there’s a full evidentiary trail on it.”
This Carbyne approach to video is designed to address some key concerns raised within the 911 community about video links to a call center. Many privacy issues are alleviated, because the caller has a choice whether to enable access to the mobile device’s video camera. Meanwhile, by initiating the link through Carbyne, the center is able to control when video is received and ensure the level of security.
“The key is that it’s at the control and discretion of the agency how they use it,” Clark said.
But perhaps the most significant aspect of the patented Carbyne solution is that 911 system does not have to wait until an expensive upgrade to NG911—notably, the IP-based ESInet backbone that serves as the foundation to NG911—is completed to integrated live streaming video into their operations. Clark estimated that it will take years before ESInets are deployed nationwide.
When combined with Carbyne’s greater caller-location accuracy and analytics, the video functionality lets call centers get a clearer idea about the value of NG911 functionality and how to incorporate them into the first-responders workflow, Clark said.
“We see it as a wonderful opportunity for agencies to make a step forward and get past this big swell of unknown without having to make a capital forklift,” Clark said. “If they have to extend service contracts on their CAD systems or call-handling systems, or they’re not ready to migrate to an i3 domain because budgets are being cut, people have to get smarter. What we like to say is, ‘We know you want to get there [to NG911], and we all want to get there. But sometimes, you’ve got to make steps along the way.’
“We’re not telling anybody, ‘You’ve got to rip your equipment out.’ In fact, it’s an embracement mechanism that says, ‘We recognize the fact that you’ve already made investments. You don’t need to make another one.’ If you’ve got the data, we become the broker for you to put that data in an actionable format, so that not only can you see it, use it, and live with it, but the domain-awareness aspect of it manages up to an analytics layer, where you can see hotspots emerging before you even know they’re emerging.”
Although Carbyne has been awarded the U.S. patent—similar patents have been awarded to Carbyne in Mexico and Israel—the company does not intend to keep the technology to itself.
“Certainly there are other companies out there that are making efforts to reach the public; how they do it is up to them,” Clark said. “But from a method perspective and from a patent perspective, to do it securely, the company that has been granted the patent is Carbyne, and we want to work with anybody’s that’s trying to do that.
“We’re a very, very open, collaborative company. We’re willing to work with any company out there. We’re not looking to monopolize any part of any industry at all. We just want to be able to help, and we know a secure method to do that, without having to make major capital uplifts.”
While the initial focus of the patented Carbyne solution is viewing video from a 911 caller, the same platform can be leveraged to view live-stream video from personnel in the field, Clark said.
“What it gives is the ability to have video on-scene, from a body-worn [camera],” Clark said. “Let’s say Company XYZ—I’ll say Axon—has a bunch of body-worns across a city. Those body-worns are portals of information.
“Let’s assume that, in the vehicle, there’s a repeater, say a 5G uplink on the car. Why am I not taking the officer’s body-worn video real time and giving somebody eyes on scene that has got their back? But it’s also a means to say, ‘Look, if something happens, how can we help to intervene, because there is that adrenaline aspect of being on scene?’
“In the case of George Floyd, there were people in the PSAP saying, ‘Something’s going on here.’ Is a body-worn camera [with video] that goes into a trunk after the fact going to help? Or, if I can see it right now, I can get my supervisor, so that somebody steps in and instantly stops it.”
As part of the recent “Defund the Police” push, many local jurisdictions are evaluating whether many 911 calls can be handled by personnel other than traditional law-enforcement officers—for example, people trained in mental health to deal with such cases. However, those situations can become dangerous, so having a Carbyne video link to a dispatch center could help keep social workers safe, Clark said.
“As people are starting to say, ‘Maybe we want to put certain activities in this community-oriented group,” he said. “Great, what are they going to do when they go on scene and something happens? They need to have a lifeline.”